Posts Tagged ‘spirituality

03
Mar
14

why Lent?

Growing up in a Baptist church, I don’t even think Lent was on the radar, at least not on my radar. Christmas and Easter were what we celebrated or at least what I remember anyway. We’d come to church on Easter wearing pastels and singing songs about Jesus being risen from the dead. But Lent? I didn’t even know what Lent meant.

I only started hearing about Lent a dozen or so years ago. We attended a church where people talked about what they were giving up for Lent. At first, I didn’t know what in the world they were talking about. After I learned a little more, Lent became a fun and interesting topic for discussion about what to give up. There was the usual giving up of broccoli or Brussel sprouts or something that you didn’t like or wouldn’t eat anyway. But some more serious Lent challenges, for some of us, were to give up chocolate or sugar or coffee. One year, I made my kids give up something. I used Lent as a bad parenting technique; it didn’t work out.  (Lent in My Belly Button)

I think rituals are important, but for a long time, I failed to realize what the real purpose of Lent was. It became about some kind of willpower, rather than any kind of Jesus significance.

But why give up anything for Lent? What actually is the significance? Why deprive myself for one minute when I don’t really have to? For me, it has become about the waiting, the anticipation of Jesus. I’ve noticed when I have fasted in the past, it’s at that moment when I don’t think I can stand it for one minute longer that that’s the moment when Jesus steps in, and He becomes my strength. All my self-reliance and thinking I have it figured out go out the window. And I lean in hard because I feel like my stomach will eat itself, and it’s at this point that I realize I have nothing in myself. I am physically and spiritually weak, and I really need Jesus. So that’s why I participate in Lent. It makes me realize my utter frailty, my utter lack of patience and self-control, and it makes me realize my need, my absolute dependence on God for food, for life, for everything.

About mid-February I start to think about Lent; I start thinking about what my give-up will be, not just to do something because that’s what you do. But how will I fast in anticipation of Jesus? What will help me see Him clearly and reveal my need for Him the most?

Last year, I cannot even remember what I gave up or even if I did in fact give up anything, but a friend challenged Jeff and me  to read the entire Bible during Lent. So that’s what I did. At first it was a challenge, but then it became something much, much more than that. Not to be overly dramatic, but it was life-changing for me. I felt like I ate His Word, and it became life and breath.  I absolutely could not wait to dig in and read each day, and I would go to bed in anticipation of what I would read and “see” the next day. I couldn’t wait to see how the Holy Spirit revealed Himself and how often He surprised me with His truth and love and hope in crazy kind of places (like Leviticus, and I kind of fell in love with Isaiah).

When I read in Psalm 19 how God’s Word renews our lives, makes the inexperienced wise, makes our hearts glad, makes our eyes light up, is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey, I can say a resounding, “Yes, Yes, YES!” When I read the Bible like I would any other novel, I feel like I absorb it into the interior parts of my soul, my head, my heart. I feel it in my bones, and  it becomes a part of me.

I read somewhere (the internet) that Lent is 40 days long and used for prayer and fasting in the time before Easter, but the period between Ash Wednesday, which happens to be on Jeff’s birthday this year (March 5), and Easter (April 20) is 46 days long. So I’m excited to once again have the opportunity to read the Bible from Ash Wednesday to Easter.  This sounds daunting and overwhelming, and it is at times. But I believe the Holy Spirit teaches us all things, and I’m excited to not just know more but see Him and hear from Him in ways that I haven’t yet heard. So I’m almost a little giddy and ready to start today, but I wait. The waiting, the anticipation is good.

I’m not necessarily giving up anything for Lent, except maybe reading other books and giving up watching more DVDs than I really need to. But no matter what I do or don’t do for Lent or any other time, the focus must be Christ. (Heb. 12)

Because of the year that I tried to make my kids give up stuff, I decided that every one should choose their own Lent give-up. It just really works better that way. The stirrings of my heart or whatever you want to call them don’t seem to apply to others the same way they do to me, and I’ve come to realize that the Holy Spirit’s not usually talking to other people in the same way that He’s talking to me. And so I don’t get caught up with pushing my own stuff on people. Not anymore. I trust God to lead me, as well as the people around me, in the places that He wants each of us to go. And that makes it so much more exciting to hear all the different ways that God wakes each one of us up to Him. 🙂

29
Aug
13

different kinds of happy

I believe there are different kinds of happy. The one I’ve known for most of my life is the kind that depends on circumstances going my way and on other people meeting my needs or seeing things my way. It’s the kind of happy that is fleeting, beyond my control, based on outside circumstances.  So how do we “keep” happy around in a more lasting, satisfying way?

We as people want to be happy; we want our kids to be happy and live happy, fulfilled lives. It’s even written in The Declaration of Independence  that we have “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But many of the things that I myself have pursued have not brought any kind of lasting happiness. Maybe the word pursuit is what makes the word happy not really work. Because it seems that when I pursue it, it always seems to elude my grasp. And I know you can’t buy happy. So maybe happy isn’t something you pursue or something you buy but rather a state of being, something a person learns or even receives.

I looked up the word happy in the dictionary, and most of the definitions described happy as “something based on one’s circumstances or having good fortune,” but the one definition that stood out to me said “happy” formerly meant “blessed.” I have a hard time grasping the word blessed even though I’ve read it hundreds of times in the Bible. But there’s one Bible translation that translates the word blessed as happy. And that’s something I think I can begin to understand.

For me, I want to go deep into happy, the kind of happy that maybe could even be described as joy or peace within, the kind that doesn’t change even when the things or the people around me do. Deep contentment, not dependent on outside things to sustain or fulfill me.  Blessed.

So, God in His gracious kindness used one of my kids to show me a different kind of happy. Jesse, who is 17, went to camp for the first time at the beginning of the summer. I was so excited for him. Jeff and I both grew up going to camp, so I hoped that he would have the time of his life.  The camp where he went posts picture online daily, so parents are able to catch a glimpse of their kids enjoying camp life at its best.  I kept checking online, picturing in my head my son having such a great time. They posted cabin pictures online Tuesday night. All the campers in Jesse’s cabin had these big smiles on their faces; some made funny faces, but my son stood at the back behind everyone else with closed lips and a sad expression in his eyes. My heart dropped because all I wanted was for my kid to be happy.

I didn’t even tell Jeff about the picture. My heart hurt for Jesse. So I began praying for him like crazy. I prayed for him to have a good time, for him to find someone he connected with, for him to be happy. And then, in the middle of the night, God changed my prayers for Jesse. I began praying that he would find ways to serve others, to find those outsider kids who had no one else to talk to, and that he would love them instead of focusing on himself. I prayed that he would open himself up to what God had for him in this experience, that he would be happy, but that happy would look different from what I had formerly thought.

Jeff and I went to pick Jesse up from camp on that Friday, and he seemed settled and somehow more mature than the week before, happy even.  I told him about the picture I had seen online and about the two very different prayers I had prayed. And he told me stories of where he had listened and talked with some very lonely kids. Camp had not been what I had originally wanted for him, but God answered my prayers in the way that God wanted and knew that was best for Jesse.

As the summer went on, Jesse went back to work at the same camp as a junior cabin leader for twelve rambunctious 10-year-old boys. The first week he worked was a really hard week, but Jesse came home talking about what he had learned and how he would do it differently when he went back to camp to work later on in the summer. He seems to be learning happy, but not in the traditional sense of the word, where he pursues it or relies on other people or circumstances to make him happy. And as a mom, I’m content to know that God takes care of my kid and knows how to do so far better than I can even imagine.

A couple of months ago, I found the “happy” chapter in my Bible and shared it with almost everyone I talked with. Psalm 84 reveals the life-changing happy that circumstances and tragedies and fear and even other people cannot touch. It’s the kind of happy that sinks into your soul and allows you to breathe in and live all that God intended. It’s the abundant life that Jesus talked about in the New Testament. It’s the happy that tastes and sees that God is good. It’s what it means to be truly blessed.

How happy are those who reside in Your house, (Christ in me, Christ in you)
who praise You continually.

Happy are the people whose strength is in You,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

Happy is the person who trusts in You,
Lord of Hosts!

14
Mar
13

Loving Our Lent Challenge

For Lent this year, Jeff and I were challenged to read through the entire Bible. Since October, I had been devouring parts of the New Testament. But read through the whole Bible in 46 days? Is that even possible? Jeff went online to find a Bible reading plan, but the shortest plan the internet has is for 90 days. Even the internet people don’t think it’s possible.

But we took the challenge. Jeff figured out how many pages he needed to read each day to complete his reading and was on his way. I didn’t plan it out quite as much as Jeff, and I also started by reading with the New Testament, so that I wouldn’t get stuck around Numbers and call it quits. This has been a fantastic journey, so far.  God has opened my eyes up to Him in His Word like never before.

In reading the Bible this way, like I would a novel, I feel like I’m gobbling His words and wanting more. Most days, I cannot seem to get enough. In Psalm 81, it says, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” I feel like a baby bird with her beak open wide, waiting for her daddy to drop in more. And there’s always more. More than I can possibly get in a lifetime.

But in taking on this challenge, there have been things that I’ve had to get rid of to make a space for reading the Bible in this way; I realized I had to have time to stop and soak up God’s Words. And I found that the things that I gave up don’t really amount to all that much anyway.

But His Word, I cannot do without it, and I now find myself running to it when there’s trouble and thinking about it even when there’s not. God and His Words have become life to me, words to trust in, words to obey. When Satan told Jesus to turn the stones into bread, Jesus answered, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

In the movie, The Book of Eli, the main character had the only Bible left on Earth. The bad guy, of course, wanted the Bible because of its power and went to extremes to try to get it. For thirty years, Eli spent his days walking West and his nights devouring the Word of God with his fingers. By the end of the movie, the Bible had been destroyed. But blind Eli recited the Bible in its entirety as someone else put those words on paper. The enormity of this still strikes me…the love of those words…God’s Words.

Your words were found, and I ate them.Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart… (Jeremiah 15)

02
Mar
13

Knock, Knock! Who’s There?

When Moses received the Ten Commandments, the people of Israel were afraid to hear from God directly. They saw the smoking mountain, the thunder and lightning and stood far back even though Moses told them not to be afraid. God wanted to speak to them, but they were too afraid to hear what God had to say to them. “The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20)

In Deuteronomy 5, God said to Moses, ‘I have heard the words that these people have spoken to you.

Everything they have said is right. If only they had such a heart to fear Me and keep all My commands…’

Jesus says the same thing about the Pharisees in Matthew 15.

These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

Something’s up with some of us who call ourselves believers in our culture. Because we don’t really seem to be following the Christ I see in the Bible. And I don’t really think Jesus is talking about following Him by going to church every time the doors are open or even giving money or bringing someone to church every once in a while. These are small, insignificant things that don’t amount to much according to Jesus’ standards.

The Pharisees were doing a whole lot more than this in the New Testament, and Jesus and John called them a bunch of snakes. He knew their hearts; He knew their lives. In Matthew 7, the ones that Jesus says He doesn’t know and are cast out are the ones who prophesied and drove out demons and did  miracles in His name. And Jesus responds to them  ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me…’ I think His ideas for following Him are much, much higher, starting with listening to Him and then obeying.

In our American church culture, lives don’t seem to be changed by the power of God or His Word. Jesus cannot be treated as an add-on, something used to make lives easier, more comfortable, more enjoyable.  He is not here to fix us but to change us into a new creation, which is painful, and I don’t think people really want that Jesus. Following Him requires time and commitment and love, and we don’t seem to be in abundance of any of those things. The Israelites were afraid, but in our culture we’re not afraid; we’re just too busy, distracted, disobedient, self-centered and indifferent to follow Him. He talks about people like us in Mark 4. We’re the people represented by the seed sown among the thorny soil.

...these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the seduction of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

And the unfruitful ones? What happens to them at the end of the age? They’re thrown out and destroyed. Even the ones who did all kinds of things in His name didn’t make the cut. Because Jesus said that you will know those who are His by their fruit.

So what do we do with this? How do we know if we are His and are producing good fruit, fruit that Jesus will recognize? In I John, disciples of Jesus are the ones who love Him, and you see the love they have for Him because they are keeping His commands (not man’s laws or standards, but God’s commands). We begin by loving the people around us.

Some say all the right words and do all the right things but  don’t really know Him, and He doesn’t know them. But there is hope; it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. He’s given us Himself and His Word. And as John and Jesus both said, Repent (turn from sin by the power of the Holy Spirit) and believe; become a true follower of His by listening to Him and by following His commands.

Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil (repent), humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. (believe)

Although the road is narrow, and there are not many who choose to take that road, it is the way of life and truth and real meaning. But His way is also the way of the cross and death: death to self, death to the ways of the world, death to comfortable, safe lives. Jesus says, If you lose your life for my sake, then you will find it. But if you try to hang on to your life, that’s when you lose everything. There’s no middle ground here, no straddling the fence.

You’re either in the process of working out your own salvation with fear and trembling, or you’re not. (Philippians 2:12)  We’re all busy following something, someone. And we intently listen to the people we’re following; we follow them on Twitter, on Facebook, on any other social media we can get our hands on. But are you a true believer and follower of Jesus, or have you deceived yourself and don’t know His power or His Word? Are you following Him by listening to His Spirit, by reading His Word? And not books that people have written about Him. Jesus told the Sadducees, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

He loves us so much, not only in how He sent Jesus and the Holy Spirit to us,  but also in how He reveals Himself to us moment by moment as we open our hearts, hands and lives to receive Him.  We don’t want to be like the children of Israel who when God wanted to speak to them, they refused to come and listen but rather had someone else (Moses) tell them what God had said. We are deceived when we think we need someone to interpret God and the Bible for us, whether it’s a pastor, a Bible study teacher or Christian author.

The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true… (I John 2)

We have the Creator of the world who longs to speak with us through His Word and through the Holy Spirit. We don’t go to the Bible to find more facts or knowledge or because we’re guilted into it. We go to the Bible so that He would reveal Himself to us in all His beauty and majesty and righteousness. We go to the Bible in order to follow Him in obedience and love.

Pray that He would give us wisdom and discernment and that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened. Pray for ears and hearts to listen to and long for what He is saying. Psalm 40:6 says, You open my ears to listen. And pray for the courage to follow Him in obedience to His Word and Spirit. He’s looking for followers. He’s looking for people who will listen and obey. It’s just that simple. The true worshipers worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

According to Hebrews 12, we no longer have to go to the smoking mountain like the children of Israel did. And God is no longer in the darkness. “Instead you have come to the city of the living God…to Jesus. Make sure that you do not reject the One who speaks…”

12
Jan
13

Who’s Willing to Carry You?

In Mark 2, Jesus taught at someone’s house, and the house was so packed with people that no one else could squeeze in to hear what Jesus was saying. Even the doorway was crowded with people. But there were four men that day on a mission. They knew they had to get their paralytic friend to Jesus because their friend needed what Jesus had. And so, these men figured out what they had to do in order to get this dependent, needy person to Jesus for healing, body and soul.

But it struck me, that there had to be four people who were not just willing to carry this man to Jesus, but people who cared enough about him not to be deterred in their mission and who also came up with a plan to get him in when it looked impossible. They could have gotten to the door of the house, realized there wasn’t any more room, especially room enough for a person lying on a stretcher, turned around and made their way back home. But they didn’t. They took the roof off of the house and lowered him down to Jesus. They did what it took. And seeing their faith, Jesus forgave the paralytic man’s sins, and then He healed his body. This man was healed because of their faith, their persistence, their love. They were willing to carry their friend to Jesus.

And the question I ask myself– Are there people willing to carry me? Are there people willing to carry you? I’ m not talking about family here. I’m talking about the people we’re in community with. That means that we have to allow people into our lives so that they can see our needs, and we also have to be willing to let these people help. This means putting away our independent, self-sufficient attitude and pride and allowing ourselves in humility to be loved, to be helped.

The paralytic’s problem was obvious. His friends knew what He needed. But do the people around me know what I need? Do yours know what you need? It’s hard asking for help when pride and fear of rejection get in the way, when we’re so afraid we might inconvenience someone, or that they might not want to really help but feel that they have to out of obligation or duty. It also means we have to reveal ourselves and open ourselves up to the people around us and identify our struggles. We have to admit weakness. And in doing that, we’re admitting that we don’t have it figured out.

The flip question can also be asked. Am I willing to carry others? Once again, this means that I have to be in community with people. I have to be close enough to see people’s needs and be involved in their lives. Not only so that I can know what the needs are, but also so that those people could feel the freedom to ask. I don’t know if the paralytic man asked his friends to take him to Jesus or if these men volunteered, but  Jesus recognized their faith and healed their friend.

In carrying their friend to Jesus, these men demonstrated sacrificial love. They bore his burden. We all need community that can help carry us to Jesus at times…to bear our burdens; we need those people to show up and love us the way Jesus would, not just in word or speech but in truth and action. (I John)

10
Jan
13

Community, Discipleship and Courage

Jeff and I are called to do two things. We are called to start small communities that meet in homes, and we are called to do discipleship. We believe that both are vital to living in God’s kingdom here and now.

These communities consist of 20-50 people. The people within these communities eat together, pray together, love each other,  and commit to one another. These communities are small enough so that all the people in the community are able to bring their gifts to the table and use them for the Body’s benefit and for God’s glory.

This is not a spectator sport, where we cheer others on to do the work. We all do the work together. No one gets lost or ignored because these communities are small enough that each person is equally important. These communities meet in people’s homes, where life takes place. Simply put, a Community Group is an extended family following Jesus together by doing life with missionary purpose.

We have an active community that we are already involved in. We share a meal together weekly, help each other, and support each other by being an active part of each other’s lives. The relationships within our community are covenant relationships that require time, energy and commitment.

Our community started as the Holy Spirit called on us to do the small acts of obedience in opening our homes and lives to each other, and this community has become our extended family where each week it feels like a family reunion in the very best sense of the word. I long to be with these people, and I miss them when I’m not able to.

We are looking to start other communities similar to this one as God brings together people who are desperate for Him and who desire to share their lives in community. These groups will be similar but also very different in that they will be led by people who have different missional outreaches. We are ministering in such a way that these communities can be started all over Nashville and led by the people God raises up. Once a few community groups have started up, we will have celebration gatherings where this network of communities, who want to serve Jesus and the people around them, will come together for praise and worship and times of teaching. These groups will be the basis for New Life Church Network.

Jeff and I are partners in this work God has called us to. Really, our whole family is doing this work together. We are seeing our children embrace the people in our community. And they are active participants in loving and serving those around them.

The second part of what Jeff and I are doing is discipleship. The way of growth in the New Testament was discipleship. Jesus chose His disciples, and He spent three years discipling them as they walked with Him. At the end of Matthew, Jesus said to His disciples that He had been given all authority and then commanded His disciples to go make disciples. We believe that we are following Him in obedience by doing discipleship with people, Jeff with men, me with women.

Discipleship is NOT a Bible study.  Discipleship is meeting on a weekly basis with 1 to 2 other people who are reading the same Bible passage, NOT to study the passage but rather to go to the Word to see what God is calling them to do in repentance and obedience. It goes back to John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ message:  “Repent and believe. The Kingdom of God is here.”

Discipleship is simple in that anyone can do it. We are discipling and training our children, because we believe it is essential to growing and maturing in Christ. We have already seen lives changed because of what Jesus and His Word can do with people who are willing to submit themselves to Him in obedience and humility. When Jesus came and took  on our flesh, He emptied Himself, took on the form of a slave and became obedient to the point of death.  He calls us to do the same…to come and die.

Simply put, discipleship is listening to what God is telling us to do in the context of community. It is following Jesus. And it really comes down to two basic questions. What in my life do I need to repent of? And what is God, not man, telling me to do about it? Neil Cole calls this process exhaling and inhaling: exhaling our sin in repentance and then inhaling the Word of God and seeking Him in obedience. We have to expel the junk and sin of our lives before we can breathe in the Gospel.

Eugene Peterson talks about this in his book Eat This Book. He says, “Obedience is the thing, living in active response to the living God.  The most important question we ask of this text (the Bible) is not, ‘What does this mean?’ but ‘What can I obey?’ A simple act of obedience will open up our lives to this text  far more quickly than any number of Bible studies and dictionaries and concordances.” (71)

Community and discipleship work together. It’s meeting people where they are and growing up and maturing in Christ together. We’re walking side by side with people in their journey to Him. I have this sense of urgency and mission within me to do discipleship with others, because I now see hope where there was none. It’s hope in a God who changes people, not fixes them or makes their lives better, but actually transforms them into a new creation.

We can spend years trying to figure out who we are with numerous self-help books, but change can only happen when we’re ready to come to Him in repentance and belief. The same message that John the Baptist and Jesus preached still applies now.  Six or seven months ago I said to Jeff, “I’m not doing that discipleship thing.”  I know He can change lives; He is changing mine.

Please pray that we would be courageous and obedient and let God do His work in us and through us. We also need God’s people to come along side us and support us in this thing God has called us to. We are all called to serve and make sacrifices in the kingdom of God. And we are excited that others are joining us  in their prayers and with their money. We are, in fact, spurring each other on to love and good works. And that’s what kingdom living is all about. So, thank you, for acting courageously and sacrificially on our behalf and on behalf of the kingdom.

Soli Deo Gloria…to God alone be the glory…

Jeff and Kim Darnell, 1045 Fontaine Drive, Goodlettsville, TN 37072

lovegracepeace@gmail.com

30
Dec
12

Redemption of 2012

What started as a really rough year with much isolation and whining and wilderness wandering turned into something beyond my wildest dreams, something that God is now using for His glory. He took a year that looked like it was bound for disaster and turned it into something beautiful and redeemed it for Himself.

This year, 2012, has been taken back from the enemy. The enemy was out to destroy me and my family, but God in His mercy and kindness set me on a high place and turned my heart, my very life back to Him.

Just when it looked like defeat was sure to happen, when life looked the bleakest and most desperate, when the battle was sure to be lost, my Abba stepped in and drew me back to Himself. And I’ve been clinging to Him ever since.

Psalm 9 describes where I am these days.

I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart,
I’m writing the book on your wonders.
I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy;
I’m singing your song, High God.

The day my enemies turned tail and ran,
they stumbled on you and fell on their faces.
You took over and set everything right;
when I needed you, you were there, taking charge.

And my enemies weren’t actual people or Satan even, although he was probably part of it, but my biggest enemies were mostly my sin and my self. These fears, these doubts, these insecurities that I struggle with haven’t completely vanished, but they’re on their way out. Jesus is showing me daily the things I need to repent of, the things I have to be honest with Him, myself, and others about and confess these things, and they don’t have the same hold on me. They’re being defeated daily.

And not only that, He’s redeeming relationships and transforming people before my very eyes. How can I not shout His praise?

Jesus says that if you try to hang on to the life that you have, then you’ll lose out in the end. But if you lose your life for His sake, you actually find life. It certainly goes contrary to what we think. But it’s true.

I lost my life this year, the one I was trying to cling to and hold onto so desperately. But the one I got in return, the real life, this abundant one, the one that the psalmist describes…nothing compares to it. This new life now serves (most days) in His strength and His beauty.

So in 2013…come and die…the kingdom of God is here.

 




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